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Underground markets spring up in the Bay Area

Meyer lemon preserves on display at a pop-up market in Oakland. (Photo by Vanessa Guerra/ CALIFORNIA BEAT)

The Bay Area is experiencing a growing food revolution, and it’s happening in the form of temporary markets, farm stands and even an “underground” market that are quickly changing the way we connect to each other and the environment.

Shoppers “popped up” with their reusable grocery bags and filled them with fresh produce and one-of-a-kind gourmet food items at a recent “Pop-Up” market that’s housed in a warehouse otherwise known as Grace Street Catering in Oakland.

Founded by chefs Christopher Lee and Samin Nostrat, Pop-Up offers prepared and take-home meals directly from chefs and local urban farmers to the hungry masses. Half of the vendors are current or former employees of Chez Panisse, where Lee and Nostrat worked for many years before opening Eccolo, a high end Italian restaurant in Berkeley that closed last year.

They started Pop-Up primarily because they missed cooking for people and being a part of the community.

“I want to bring people high quality restaurant food at reasonable prices and create community. It’s something special,” said Nosrat.

A pop-up market springs to life in Oakland. (Photo by Vanessa Guerra/ CALIFORNIA BEAT)

People come from all over the Bay Area to get their hands on tasty gourmet food. “I travel from San Jose because we’re foodies,” said Mike Pi from San Jose. “You have to get here right on time because they sell out quick.”

An array of vendors, including Confit Chicken, Suisun Valley’s Katz Company and Blue Chair Fruit, attended the market.

Urban farmers Abeni Ramsey and Novella Carpenter from Ghost Town and City Girl Farms brought plenty of fresh fruit, veggies and canned preserves such as figs marinated in brandy. The Meyer lemon preserve is my favorite and tasted great drizzled over grilled chicken.

“It makes gourmet food accessible for everyone,” said Abeni Ramsey.

Like the Pop-Up market, the “Underground” farmers market offers gourmet locally-produced foods, but its vendors are owner-operated businesses which aren’t quite as established as some of the businesses at Pop-Up.

Uniquely, the Underground market helps producers who can’t afford to pay for a commercial kitchen gain exposure by giving them a platform where they can sell food that they prepared in their home kitchens.

Iso Rabins the founder of ForageSF, started the “Underground” market with only seven vendors last December.

At a recent underground market in San Francisco there were 65 vendors and more than 2,000 people in attendance.

There is a day market from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. and a night market with live music, food and drinks from 6 p.m to midnight.

“I wanted to create space for people who don’t have access to commercial kitchens and for people who love food. […] This market gives vendors confidence. It’s a stepping stone to legitimizing their business,” said Rabins.

A shopper picks up gourmet food items during a pop-up market in Oakland. (Photo by Vanessa Guerra/ CALIFORNIA BEAT)

Among the vendors in attendance were Brandon Yee’s pulled pork sandwiches and brisket, Tony Ulloa’s empanadas and plantain chips, Amber Shigg’s vegan and vegetarian cuisine, Monet’s cupcakes, Sugartit Kitchens and Foodie Fix ice cream.

Laar’s bars featured whole grain healthy cookies that were absolutely delicious. Lori Lovejoy’s cookies, baked using a recipe she’s been perfecting since college, are cholesterol free, high in fiber and protein, made without white flour and sweetened with maple syrup.

“My father had a triple bypass surgery and my friends are triathletes, so they asked me to bake cookies they could eat,” she said.

Salsa Delfina sold fresh homemade salsa that “people go crazy for,” said Robin Knight. The recipe has been in the family for four generations. Knight started the family business with her brother Clay recently and attended the market for the first time, where the salsa sold very well.

Eleven-year-old Ruby Elson and her mother Rebecca Ets-Hokin from Tiburon have seven hives and nearly 70,000 bees. Elson has been harvesting and selling honey for two years with her mother’s help and says bees play an important role in the ecosystem.

“Bees are dying […] It’s important to keep bees alive because without them there would be no fruit,” said Elson.

Susan Marjanovic owns Earth Alchemy and has been selling her chocolates at the market for six months. She says business has been good and is saving up to sell chocolates at other establishments. Susan’s love for spicy food inspired a delicious concoction of citrus chili chocolates that she makes by hand, intricately sculpting the chocolates into works into art.

“It’s a beautiful network of connections, that’s why I love doing this,” said Marjanovic.

There were plenty of foodies hopping from booth to booth sampling and and making personal connections with the vendors.

“I support local food. The energy is so great and the idea of collaboration,” said Barbara Gerke from San Francisco.

The last Underground market was in San Francisco, though the event changes venues from time to time. Plenty of new East Bay vendors will be at the next Underground market in Oakland on August 7.

For more information about the Underground market, or to find the exact location of an event, visit their website at http://foragesf.com/market/. To find out when the next Pop-Up farmers market will be, visit http://popupgeneralstore.blogspot.com.

Contact Vanessa Guerra at vguerra@californiabeat.org.

One Comment »

  • Lori Lovejoy said:

    Thank you for a terrific article. To be able to offer products in a low-fee venue such as the Underground Market is an incredible opportunity for aspiring local food-producers — and coverage like yours is what helps interested customers to find us! I hope lots of readers come out for the new East Bay Underground Market in Oakland on Saturday night… (-: